White House Forum Highlights Intermountain’s Support for National Effort to Address Drug-resistant Bacteria Through Integration and Transparency

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More than 150 medical experts, food companies, retailers, and health providers were invited to the White House earlier this week to discuss how to slow the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria and prevent the spread of resistant infections over the next five years.

“In hospitals across our country, and in cities across the world, this threat grows,” said Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, during the opening session of Tuesday’s Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship at the White House. “Still, our greatest threat isn’t adaptations. It’s actually our own in-action. That is why we are all here today. The challenge is great, but so is our will to meet it.”

Intermountain Healthcare was one of the 150 organizations represented at the forum. Intermountain has a long history of fighting antibiotic resistance. Its commitment includes:

  • A system-wide goal to reduce inappropriate outpatient antibiotic use for upper respiratory conditions by 50 percent by 2020.
  • Working to ensure that all Intermountain Healthcare acute care hospitals have antimicrobial stewardship programs by the end of 2017
  • Support for telemedicine efforts to extend infectious disease expertise to rural healthcare settings.
  • Continued collaboration with the CDC on reporting antimicrobial metrics used to appropriate benchmarks in similar-sized hospitals across the nation.

Since 2012, Intermountain Healthcare has been a national leader in reporting antimicrobial metrics to the CDC for all of its acute-care hospitals. The metrics are used to define appropriate antimicrobial utilization and identify areas that can be improved.

Additional health systems throughout the country are now joining that effort.

During this week’s forum, Eddie Stenehjem, MD, an infectious disease physician from Intermountain Medical Center who represented Intermountain Healthcare at the White House, identified four basic themes he feels are required for this problem to be directly addressed:

  1. All organizations that use antibiotics (humans and animals) need to be transparent about their use rates in order for useable metrics to be developed.
  2. Improving antimicrobial prescribing is everyone’s responsibility; this is a shared goal and will require collaboration between all stakeholders. 
  3. Develop national guidelines that define appropriate antibiotic use, which are shared by different infectious disease, surgical, and other medical associations.
  4. Identify better diagnostic practices to help clinicians better identify bacterial infections that require the use of antibiotics. 

“Antibiotic stewardship programs have been shown to improve quality of care and appropriate antibiotic use throughout our health system,” said Dr. Stenehjem. “Collaboration and transparency of our research and sharing our experiences with other organizations across the nation is a priority to us, and we hope it will extend the benefit of antimicrobial stewardship programs to other health systems and stakeholders.”

The American College of Physicians estimates that doctors prescribe 133 million courses of antibiotics each year. However, roughly 50 percent of those prescriptions are considered unnecessary, since they’re prescribed for common viral infections such as the common cold or cough.

“If we lose antibiotics, we undermine much of our ability to care and cure,” said Tom Frieden, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one of the key presenters at the forum. “We risk turning back the clock to when simple infections could kill.”

During the opening session, Dr. Frieden shared three patient stories that illustrated the challenges the nation faces in antibiotic use. The stories highlighted the fact that some patients receive antibiotics unnecessarily while others may not receive them promptly enough. Additionally, some infections out there have few or no antibiotics.

“We need to fight this fight,” concluded Secretary Burwell. “The threat is real. The time to act is now. We know that lives are on the line. But we can meet this challenge and we will find a solution. Together we will win this fight and our road to victory starts here today.”